Mojo - March 2008

GOP Hatchet Man "Predicted" Spitzer's Downfall

| Mon Mar. 17, 2008 12:28 PM EDT

Robert Novak's column yesterday carried this interesting nugget: Apparently Spitzer-nemesis and longtime GOP operative Roger Stone predicted the New York governor's political downfall a good three months before it came to pass, telling a talk radio host in early December that ''Eliot Spitzer will not serve out his term as governor of the state of New York." This would seem to suggest that Stone can either see the future—or had a hand in shaping it. According to Novak, though, the former is closest to the truth: "Stone had nothing to do with the investigation and said he had not heard about it when he made a prediction based on his general view of Spitzer."

However, Stone was coy when asked point blank by Newsday columnist Ellis Henican if he had any role in outing Mr. Clean as Client 9:

"No comment on that," Stone said. "I will say I knew it was coming. That's why I wasn't too upset about the results of the special election," where a Democrat grabbed a supposedly safe Republican State Senate seat, leaving Democrats just one vote shy of control.

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Hillary Clinton Talks Withdrawal

| Mon Mar. 17, 2008 10:32 AM EDT

Hillary Clinton delivered a major speech on the Iraq War this morning. She didn't say anything groundbreaking, but the speech did provide her with a nice opportunity to reiterate her support for a sensible and well-planned withdrawal, the bread and butter of many Democratic voters. Here are chunks of a summary the Clinton campaign blitzed out to reporters.

The basics of her plan have been known for months:

As President, one of Hillary's first official actions will be to convene the Joint Chiefs of Staff, her Secretary of Defense, and her National Security Council. She will direct them to draw up a clear, comprehensive plan for withdrawal that starts removing our troops within 60 days...
Hillary knows that as we bring our troops and contractors home, we cannot lose sight of our very real strategic interests in this region. Al Qaeda terrorist cells continue to operate in Iraq, cells that did not exist before President Bush's failed policy. Under Hillary's plan the United States will retain counterterrorism forces in Iraq and the region to fight al Qaeda and will not permit terrorists to have a safe haven in Iraq from which to attack the United States or its allies.

According to the speech, Clinton will ensure that for every month a member of the military spends in the field, they get one month here at home. She will reign in the use of no-bid contracts and private contractors will get the boot:

Clinton's Super Delegate Problem

| Mon Mar. 17, 2008 10:28 AM EDT

From MSNBC's First Read:

By our count, the Clinton campaign hasn't publicly announced the support of a new superdelegate since just after February 5. Indeed, since Super Tuesday, Obama has gained 47 new superdelegates, while Clinton has lost seven (including Eliot Spitzer).

Maybe the superdelegates have been reading Jonathan Alter.

Obama Ups the Ante on Disclosure

| Mon Mar. 17, 2008 10:17 AM EDT

Obama went before reporters from the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times on Friday and cleared the air on the Rezko situation in a big way. Here's the beginning of the Trib's write-up:

U.S. Sen. Barack Obama waited 16 months to attempt the exorcism. But when he finally sat down with the Tribune editorial board Friday, Obama offered a lengthy and, to us, plausible explanation for the presence of now-indicted businessman Tony Rezko in his personal and political lives.
The most remarkable facet of Obama's 92-minute discussion was that, at the outset, he pledged to answer every question the three dozen Tribune journalists crammed into the room would put to him. And he did.

You can read the whole thing here. It's pretty remarkable; it's the closest thing to an acquittal that the press can issue. The Obama campaign tried to use it to push the Clinton-as-serial-nondiscloser story line, immediately urging the Clinton campaign to match their moment of forthrightness by releasing all of Clinton's tax records, disclosing all of her earmarks, and making the donations to Bill Clinton's presidential library and foundation public.

I'm guessing the Clinton campaign will reject all three parts of that suggestion. The question is whether voters in Pennsylvania care. I'm guessing they are a little more worried about things like NAFTA, the economy, and the Iraq War. But that said, if Obama's push on the issue of disclosure reminds just a few people that they are tired of the Clintons and their drama, he might poke a few critical percentage points into his column on election night.

Greenspan on the Economy: Double Ouch

| Mon Mar. 17, 2008 10:00 AM EDT

greenspan.jpg You have to have an online subscription to the Financial Times to read Alan Greenspan's latest take on the American economy. But even without a subscription, you can read the first line:

The current financial crisis in the US is likely to be judged in retrospect as the most wrenching since the end of the second world war.

Commenting on the economy recently, billionaire/media tycoon Sam Zell said, "Obviously what we have going on is an attempt to create a self-fulfilling prophecy.... We have two Democratic candidates who are vying with each other to describe the economic situation worse." Somebody tell him that Greenspan, something of an authority, sees things the way HRC and BHO do.

A Tribute to Senator Metzenbaum

| Fri Mar. 14, 2008 5:07 PM EDT

From Jeffrey Klein, former Mother Jones Editor-in-chief:

Senator Howard M. Metzenbaum called me into his office late one morning in January of 1981. Several months earlier I'd written a cover story for Mother Jones predicting what the first four years of a Reagan administration would look like. As luck would have it, I'd gotten a jump on the national press corps, who initially thought this aging B actor didn't have a prayer of being elected president. But because Mother Jones was based in San Francisco, we knew that it was the country that needed to pray.

A sidebar in the Mother Jones' story had caused the sudden resignation during the Republican convention of Reagan's foreign policy advisor, Richard Allen. We'd exposed that Allen, while serving on Nixon's payroll, had simultaneously worked for Richard Vesco, then the world's biggest swindler.

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Dumpster Diving with the Defense Department

| Fri Mar. 14, 2008 4:47 PM EDT

Ah, the Friday document dump, where governmental bad news goes to die.

You have to love the hubris behind the federal assumption that, because it's Friday at 5 pm in Washington, DC, all the politerati have gone home for the weekend, abandoning their listservs and laptops for—what, the beach?

For those of you who don't already subscribe to all 20-plus Pentagon email alerts, here are three of this afternoon's offerings:

—A 29-page report on "Sexual Assault in the Military," conducted by the Defense Manpower Data Center, which found that "34 percent of active duty women and 6 percent of active duty men indicated experiencing sexual harassment, while 6.8 percent of women and 1.8 percent of men indicated experiencing unwanted sexual contact." Download the PDF here.

—A video of today's House Armed Services committee Mental Health hearing "to look into how the military is dealing with stress on the force." Watch the hearing here.

—An announcement that "approximately 3,500 U.S. servicemembers will be deploying to Afghanistan this summer."

Happy diving.

Credit Card Industry Kicks Consumers Off Congressional Panel

| Fri Mar. 14, 2008 3:30 PM EDT

Politico-ad.jpgIn 2000, Illinois resident Marvin Weatherspoon (right) got a Bank of America credit card that he used to consolidate $12,000 in home repair bills, thinking the 4.5 percent introductory interest rate would help him get out of debt faster. Instead, though, eight years later, he has paid the bank more than $15,000, yet has reduced his principal balance by only $800. The reason? Even though he's paid his bills on time, Bank of America inexplicably raised his interest rate, first to 19.99 percent and then to 25 percent, where it is today.

Weatherspoon came to Washington yesterday to tell his story at a hearing on the Credit Card Holders Bill of Rights, a bill sponsored by New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) that would restrict the kind of arbitrary interest rate increases Weatherspoon got hit with, among other things. But as it turned out, Weatherspoon never got to testify. The ever-powerful credit-card companies successfully bounced all of the consumers off the panel, leaving only academics and credit card executives to speak publicly.

At the outset of the hearing before a subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee, Maloney explained that "there have been fairness concerns raised about having consumers testify this morning without a waiver that allowed their credit-card issuers to respond publicly." Translation: The credit card companies wanted the consumer witnesses to make their financial records public so the banks could "rebut" their complaints, i.e., trash them in the press.

A Top Clinton Aide Fights a Blast from the Past

| Fri Mar. 14, 2008 2:59 PM EDT

Jamie Rubin called me a few days ago, and he was upset. A top foreign policy aide in the Hillary Clinton campaign and a past assistant secretary of state for public affairs, Rubin believed he had been slimed by the Obama campaign, and he suggested I had been an unwitting party to the sliming.

Here's what happened. Days earlier, the Clinton campaign had held a conference call to blast away at remarks recently made by Samantha Power regarding Senator Barack Obama's Iraq policy. That morning, Power, a talented journalist, academic, and human rights advocate, had resigned as a foreign policy adviser to Obama after a newspaper reported she had called Hillary Clinton a "monster." And during this conference call, Clinton's senior foreign policy aides insisted that Power's comments about Obama and Iraq suggested that Obama was not truly committed to withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. During that call, Rubin, as I wrote afterward, "derided Power as Obama's foreign policy 'Svengali or guru' and claimed her remarks about Iraq were proof that Obama cannot create an efficient and effective foreign policy team, calling the episode 'amateur hour' for the Obama campaign."

Rubin and the Clintonites' interpretation of Power's statements about Obama and Iraq was debatable, and their assault on Power struck some (read: me) as overkill and ugly.

Shortly after that conference call, the Obama campaign circulated a Washington Post clip to reporters that made it seem as if Rubin himself had his own "amateur hour" moment in 2004, when he was working for John Kerry's presidential campaign. The newspaper reported that Rubin had apologized for having misrepresented Kerry's position on Iraq by stating that Kerry would have probably launched a war against Saddam Hussein had Kerry been president in the preceding four years. (The George W. Bush campaign was enthusiastically using Rubin's statement to claim there was not much difference between the two candidates on Iraq.) The Post published a statement from Rubin: "To the extent that my own comments have contributed to misunderstanding on this issue...I never should have said the phrase 'in all probability' because that's not Kerry's position and he's never said it. That was my mistake."

A-ha! the Obama campaign was saying: Rubin's now slamming Power for an action similar to one he committed in 2004. In an article on the get-Power conference call, I reprinted a portion of this Post story.

After reading my piece, Rubin was livid at the Obama gang. Why? Because the Post story was false. Or sort of. At least enough so that it was, in Rubin's view, not fair for the Obama camp to be disseminating it.

Is There Satanic Symbolism in the GOP's Logo?

| Fri Mar. 14, 2008 2:00 PM EDT

GOPlogo.jpgDemocrat_logo.jpg

Something's wrong with the Republican logo. The stars are upside down. Five-sided stars that point upwards—like those on the Democratic donkey and the American flag—traditionally symbolize the forces of good. An overturned pentagram, however, represents the goat's head of Satan and the forces of evil—and there are three on the Republicans' elephant.

The GOP's stars weren't always upside down; some say the change occurred around 2000. When I called up the RNC to ask about the logo's history, staffers invariably said, "we'll have to get back to you on that" and never did. "Huh, that's interesting," said one, who clearly hadn't noticed Satan hiding in plain view.

"I have a feeling some neo-pagan democratic designed this logo," wrote a commenter on the conservative web site Free Republic. Besides like-minded rants that the design is a huge slap in the Grand Old Party's face, some online chat-room goers speculated that the inverted stars are linked to secret society symbolism.

In any case, the stars have not only turned for the Republicans: A Hillary Clinton website featured a photo of an American flag with upside down pentagrams at the time of the New Hampshire primary.

—Caroline E. Winter